Some Nashville residents and business owners are still financially spiraling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city paid the Equity Alliance to research and report how vulnerable groups — including people experiencing homeless, as well as Black and Latino residents — could be helped. What they found was that residents in the 12 hardest-hit ZIP codes were in greater need of financial, rental, food and energy/utility assistance.
In late spring of 2020, Nashville got $121.1 million to respond to the pandemic before the end of the year. The city’s COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee decided to spend that money to help small businesses, residents and to fund the city’s response to the pandemic.
Nashville agencies like WeGo, the Metro Development and Housing Agency and others got their own money that’s separate from this amount and made their own decisions.
Now the city is expecting to receive more federal money in mid-May. The American Rescue Plan will be helpful for Metro because the local government will receive two separate pockets of money for the city ($132 million) and county ($135 million).
That’s a switch up from last time, when the city got less money to respond to a larger geographical area.
So, WPLN News checked in to see how much and where the city spent past CARES Act money and the impact it has had on its recipients.
City’s emergency response
Nashville spent $68.8 million on the city’s emergency response. Here’s how it was split up:
$48.8 million went into COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and the Nashville Fairgrounds’ homeless shelter. The federal government rolled out guidelines on using the money throughout the year.
Around April, the city was allowed to spend $29.8 million on regular pay for city-employed front-line workers. If these workers spent a significant amount of time on COVID-19, the city could use federal money for their whole salary. Think police, health department workers and social services.
The city took that money and reallocated it to the general fund.
General fund reallocation
The city put $29.8 million toward public safety salaries and used the city’s money to pay for more pandemic response.
Think of the reallocation like your grandmother giving you $1,000 for your savings, but you need money for rent. You would do what she asked — put the money into a savings account — and then transfer out “your $1,000” to pay for rent.
That allowed Nashville to report to the federal government that the money was spent on public safety salaries and keep responding to the pandemic from Jan. 1, 2021, onward. When the decision was being made locally, city officials weren’t sure that the deadline would be extended or that more money would come.
If the city didn’t preserve any money, it would have no money right now to keep fighting the pandemic and it would be without resources until the feds send the American Rescue Plan.
Support for residents — including rent, mortgage, utilities
The Equity Alliance’s report says 35% of Nashvillians want Metro to spend stimulus on mortgage and rent relief.
Ryan LaSuer is the Executive Director of the Community Care Fellowship, which helps people experiencing homelessness get on their feet. Throughout Nashville a coalition of organizations, including LaSuer’s, are working to permanently house 400 people.
His organization is aiming to help more than 60 people get housed, though the target varies because it depends on how quickly people can become self-sufficient. That’s a significant increase from last year’s 15 people.
The main struggle has been the city’s low inventory of affordable housing, which has led them to lean on hotels.
“They weren’t having any rooms filled by the normal clientele that would come to the hotels. And so that’s how we were able to secure a really good price with them initially,” he says. “But since then, we have built relationships with the management. And in just last week, the manager at the hotel where we’re at had reached out to me about, ‘Hey, do you have any more guests that you would like to move in? Because we have some more open rooms.’ ”
That’s a different response than other cities have received from hotels. LaSuer says they try to look for hotels with kitchenettes and that are close to a bus line, but the struggle is WeGo’s limited bus routes.
Holding up small businesses
For over a year, most Nashville live music venues have been closed and they haven’t been silent about their financial struggles. Exit/In’s Chris Cobb created a coalition that brought together fellow owners to support each other. They also rallied the city to allocate money for them to get through this pandemic.
In September, Councilmember Courtney Johnston acknowledged the money would be a Band-Aid, though it’s been one many business owners have welcomed. The city gave $1 million to live music venues.
“Some days you wake up and you’re like, you know what, everything’s gonna work out perfectly,” The East Room co-owner Luke Ehrmann says. “And some days you wake up and you’re like, this is never going to happen. I don’t see reopening ever again, you know?”
Right now, they aren’t sure when they will reopen, especially after the opening and rapid re-closure of Basement East.
“But we have been lucky to get this far. And it’s just, it’s so close. It’s right there.”